Western Theological Seminary

WTS-Newbigin Distance Learning
Master of Divinity Degree

Are you passionate about church planting, revitalization, and center city renewal ministry?  Western’s Newbigin Distance Learning Master of Divinity program may be just the option you are looking for.

Newbigin House of Studies is located in San Francisco, an entirely secular city with no religious memory. Learn how this environment will uniquely prepare you to reach the world with the Gospel.

What makes the program distinctive?


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The emphasis on community sets Western apart from other seminaries offering distance learning. You'll form relationships with peers and faculty, all of whom are deeply committed to helping nurture you for effective pastoral ministry.

Read what current students are saying about the program.

Blended Course Model

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Students work together and learn from each other in online and classroom collaboration, shaping a remarkable non-competitive learning culture. Unique to Western's distance learning program is a combination of face-to-face and online instruction in nearly all courses.

The Vision, Partnership, and Urban Context

Visit this Newbigin House of Studies page to learn what makes this M.Div. program unique.

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Fully Accredited

Western Theological Seminary is fully accredited, and the distance learning M.Div. is approved by the Association of Theological Schools. 

In-Residence or Distance Learning - which suits you?

How do you learn best?  What environment do you prefer? Before signing up for any online course or stepping into a classroom, it is important to discern your own learning style.

In-Residence Learner

  • Prefers the physical environment of the classroom
  • Enjoys regular face-to-face interaction with professors and peers
  • Needs a consistent class schedule and structured learning formats
  • Learn more about our In-Residence M.Div.

Distance Learning Learner

  • Self-motivated, independent learner
  • Wants flexibility of organizing his or her own learning schedule
  • Disciplined, can set aside 30 hours per week to study and participate in an online setting
  • Prefers to continue in current ministry or home situation
  • Can travel three times a year for classroom-based intensives on campus in Holland, MI and San Francisco, CA (see Intensives for further info)
Student Testimonials


Rawee.gifRawee Bunupuradah

"Preparing to enter the mission field in Bangkok, Thailand, it grew more apparent that theological training was necessary for the work of equipping and encouraging leaders of this great city.  The question became: could we find a program that would allow me to study AND serve God in Bangkok while training me for Gospel work in the urban context?  The WTS/Newbigin-DL MDiv program has been the perfect answer.  It deepens my walk with God as it helps me work alongside Bangkok's leaders to see the Gospel cultivating and flourishing in Thailand.  I am being thoroughly enriched and enjoying the direct connection between my work and seminary education."  

Read more about Rawee's ministry here: 

RCA Today: Good News for Bangkok



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     My story begins in Eastern Europe behind what was once the “iron curtain.” During college I spent my summers with churches and church leaders in the Czech Republic and Poland, interacting with young adults who were extremely intelligent yet skeptical about the Christian faith. 
     I loved it. I felt the Lord tugging on me to work someday in a church that catered specifically to thoughtful, skeptical people. 
     After a few years in other ministry posts, Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, MI hired me as their youth pastor. In the summers I took teams of people to North Philadelphia to help house churches in impoverished neighborhoods. My friends there told me they were praying for someone to start a church in “the belly of the beast”—downtown Philadelphia.
As my wife and I prayed and researched where the Lord might want us, I found that the least likely person to be a Christian in North America is an urban professional in the northeast metro corridor from Boston to D.C.  
     In 2008, my wife Monica and I moved with our baby, Brennan, into a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Philadelphia. We found it challenging at first because neither of us really considered ourselves “city people.” My wife’s parents were farmers, and her closest neighbors growing up were barely within eyesight.
     Another challenge was adjusting to being a Christian in a very post-Christian place. I had to learn how to talk about Christian faith all over again.  We began getting to know as many of our neighbors as we could, as well as contacts our friends had given us while we were moving. 
     This is how Liberti Church started. For seven or eight months we met every other week with a small launch team of believers and non-believers to discuss what a church would look like that made sense for this place. On the off weeks, we basically hung out and got to know each other better.
     In the spring of 2009 we began worship services. We were seeing some of our friends become believers, and that helped form the DNA of Liberti—we didn’t use insider language that often happens in churches, but instead we learned not to make assumptions about where people were in their journey.       
     If you were to visit Liberti church today, you would find it much the same as when we first began. We have grown from 30-40 people to about 700-800 people in two campuses, yet it’s still normal to bring friends who aren’t Christians. In fact, we go to great lengths to guard that environment of hospitality.
     We don’t water down the Gospel message, but we do address things that are confusing or objectionable. We always want to remember what it’s like to not believe, and we also want to help people understand how the Christian faith can make very deep sense of their lives.  
     Soon I will complete my M.Div. through Western Theological Seminary’s distance learning program in partnership with the Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to relocate my family of five to a new city, so the distance learning option has been ideal. The marriage of first-rate classic theological reflection with the wisdom of expert ministry practitioners in an urban environment was just what I wanted in an M.Div. program. 
     My studies have been very formative for me and for Liberti Church. Our whole approach to ministry—to seeing our own city as a mission field—was the vision and theological legacy of Lesslie Newbigin.
     Jesus came for the sick. Our church exists for broken/fractured/messy people who need grace. Liberti is like a teaching hospital that not only helps the sick, but sends people out with what they have learned, whether that’s through counseling, gospel ministries, residencies, internships, etc.  
     Continuing in the strong missional tradition of the RCA, I hope Liberti can be a place that both blesses our own community and encourages the wider church to pursue its mission in the world.       —JA


Program Design:

Yearly Schedule Overview

WTS-Newbigin Distance Learning Master of Divinity


In mid-August, new students participate in online orientation and learning management system training. Students will work within the program's learning management system, Canvas, gaining experience with the same tools used in courses, and will begin to develop an online community within the new student cohort.

When new students arrive on campus in October for their first intensive, they receive an additional day of face-to-face orientation.

Semester Schedule

•     Fall Semester:  14 weeks, early September-December. Hybrid courses that blend online and classroom learning include a 5-day on-campus intensive in Holland, MI in mid-October.
•     January Term:  3 weeks, fully-online elective courses.
•     Spring Semester:  14 weeks, January-May.   Hybrid courses that blend online and classroom learning include a 5-day on-campus intensive in Holland, MI in mid-May.
•     Summer Term:  6 weeks, late May-late June, fully online courses.
•     Late Summer Term:  mid July-late August.  Includes a 1-week intensive held in San Francisco during years 1-3 of the program.


Western Theological Seminary’s Commencement Service is usually the second Monday in May and falls within the distance learning spring semester on-campus intensive. Graduating seniors participate in Commencement then finish the rest of the intensive. WTS-Newbigin DL Graduates receive the Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary.

Course Design and Cohort Model

A group or “cohort” of students (15-24 people) are admitted each year and move through the curriculum together. This design fosters a rich learning community providing support to each other over the five years of the program.

Western's program is designed for asynchronous learning with an occasional real-time chat or conference call. Lectures are downloaded using the Canvas learning system. Discussion forums are a regular part of each course and often students work collaboratively on course assignments. Maintaining regular and consistent participation is important for success in this type of distance program.

Students work most often within the time frame of 1-2 week units. This allows a student to create his or her own schedule for completing assignments while keeping the whole class together within a set time frame for collaborative work.

On-Campus Intensive

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Each October and May five-day intensives in Holland, MI are held. Students start each day with breakfast together, and the community breaks in the morning for worship and fellowship. Students participate in worship by reading scripture or assisting with the worship liturgy.

The one-week intensives in San Francisco are specifically for learning about the urban church in context.

Spiritual formation retreats and professional development seminars are woven into the intensives throughout the four-year program.

Lodging and Travel

Lodging and travel to Holland, MI and San Francisco, CA are not included in the cost of the program and are the responsibility of the student.

The seminary will assist in locating housing options for the intensives, but students are responsible for the cost of housing and meals while on campus (other than breakfast).

Textbooks can be purchased from the seminary bookstore.


Formation for Ministry

The Teaching Church supervised ministry experience takes place during years 3 and 4 of the program in the City Church setting in which the student is already engaged. The student will work three-quarters time (approx. 400 hrs in a 14 week semester) in ministry practice and one-quarter time (approx. 15-20 hrs in a semester) in ongoing academic coursework. Integration of the ministry experiences, the coursework, and mentoring from both a seasoned urban pastor and a gifted church planter are strong features of the embedded internship. The two years of the internship will track specific learning outcomes in ministry readiness.

Courses and Degree Requirements

  • 96 credit hours, minimum of four years. 
  • Two year Urban Internship
  • Intercultural Immersion trip

Sequence of Courses

Field Legend: BL - Biblical Field; MN - Christian Ministry Field; FR - Formation for Ministry; TH - Theological Field

Year 1


  • **MN102 Practice of Discipleship (3)
  • **MN107The Urban Christian (1.5)
  • BL100 New Testament Greek I (3)
  • MN100 Worship Foundations (1.5)


  • **Elective (1.5)


  • BL101A New Testament Greek II (1.5)
  • BL101B New Testament Interpretation (1.5)
  • MN105 Pastor as Person (1.5)
  • **Elective (1.5)
  • **BL102 New Testament Foundations


  • **Elective (3)

Late Summer

  • MN108 The Urban Church(3) (on-site in San Francisco, CA)
  • *Pastoral Training Seminar


** fully online course. All other courses include blended face-to-face and online instruction.

*rotating pastoral training seminars on site in San Francisco: Racism Awareness, Addictions Recovery, Clergy Sexual Misconduct Awareness

Year 2


  • **Elective (1.5)
  • **BL103 Old Testament Foundations (3)
  • BL110 Biblical Hebrew (3)
  • Elective (1.5)


  • **Elective (1.5)


  • BL111 Hebrew Translation & Interpretation (3)
  • **TH113 Systematic Theology I (3)
  • Elective  (1.5)
  • **Elective (1.5)


  • **TH114 Systematic Theology II (3)

Late Summer

  • MN117 Urban Church Planting (3) (on-site at Newbigin House)
  • FR130A Urban Internship I (kick-off)
  • *Pastoral Training Seminar


** fully online course. All other courses include blended face-to-face and online instruction.

*rotating pastoral training seminars on site in San Francisco: Racism Awareness, Addictions Recovery, Clergy Sexual Misconduct Awareness

Year 3


  • TH100 Church History I  (3)
  • **MN115 Practice of Counsel and Care (3)
  • Elective (1.5)
  • FR130A Urban Internship I (no face to face)(1.5) 


  • FR111 Intercultual Immersion (3)


  • **TH101 Church History II (3)
  • FR130B Urban Internship II (11 hours face to face))  (1.5)
  • MN101 Preaching Foundations (3)


  • **Elective (MN121 Standards and Polity for RCA Candidates) (3)

Late Summer

  • TH112 Gospel, Culture & Church (3)
  • *Pastoral Training Seminar  


** fully online course. All other courses include blended face-to-face and online instruction.

*rotating pastoral training seminars on site in San Francisco: Racism Awareness, Addictions Recovery, Clergy Sexual Misconduct Awareness

Year 4


  • MN120 Church Leadership (3)
  • TH121 Christian Ethics (3)
  • FR131A Urban Internship II (11 hours face to face)(1.5) 


  • **Elective (1.5)


  • TH124 Credo (1.5)
  • MN124 Practice of Worship & Preaching (3)
  • **Elective (3)
  • FR131B Urban Internship II (1.5)


  • **MN122 Church Revitalization in the Urban Context  (1.5)


** fully online course. All other courses include blended face-to-face and online instruction.


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